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Geophysics foundations:

Quick overview:
Summary of VLF surveying and data
Introduction
VLF surveying involves measurement of the earth's response to EM waves generated by transmitters a
great distance from the survey site. The source fields are effectively planar and of fixed orientation so
the response depends on the orientation of buried objects with respect to the source fields. It is
therefore usual to measure the signals caused by two or three different transmitters. Six parameters
describing the secondary magnetic field are commonly measured. They are the in-phase and quadrature
phase components in all three vectoral directions (x,y,z). Sometimes, the associated horizontal electric
fields within the earth are also measured. This allows estimates of apparent resistivity and apparent
phase between electric and magnetic fields to be recorded.

Survey design

Initializing a VLF (and magnetic)


instrument
for a mineral exploration survey

As for all geophysical EM surveys, the measurements respond to variations in subsurface electrical
conductivity. There are several aspects that are unique to VLF surveys:
1. Owing to the fixed orientation of source fields, and to their essentially planar configuration,
secondary magnetic fields are most strongly induced in long linear conductors which are
oriented perpendicular to the source fields. Therefore, the response depends on target
orientation as well as conductivity.
2. Large scale EM fields are capable of driving significant electric fields within the earth. These
are known as galvanic currents, and they are different from the small-scale so-called "vortex"
currents, which are eddy currents induced by primary magnetic fields in localized regions of
higher conductivity. These galvanic currents tend to bend around regions of low conductivity.
This makes it possible, under the right conditions, to detect resistive targets more easily with
VLF surveys than with other shallow-investigating EM surveys.
If possible, transmitters should be chosen so that the source fields they generate are perpendicular to
each other at the field site. Unfortunately there are only a few transmitters around the globe, and it is
difficult to survey in regions where two transmitters cannot be detected. However, when signals are
present, and when only magnetic field data are recorded, acquisition proceeds nearly as fast as for an
apparent conductivity or magnetic survey.

One unique aspect of the VLF technique is its ability to non-invasively record electric fields in the
ground. Apparent resistivity of the ground is proportional to Ex/Hy, where Ex is electric field strength,
and Hy is magnetic field strength perpendicular to the measured E-field. Acquisition of E-field data is
not necessary if simple anomaly location is all that is required, but it can provide limited quantitative
information on apparent resistivity and overburden thickness. Also, on sites that have very hard surface
material, there is no other common method for directly measuring E-field behaviour. This is possible
with VLF equipment because the frequencies involved are higher than other common geophysical
methods, so capacitive ground electrodes can be used. These do not require penetration of the surface.
Unfortunately, deploying the electrodes does slow down data acquisition, and results are more sensitive
to ambient EM noise.
Finally, recognizing sources of noise is an important aspect of VLF survey design. For example, it is
common to encounter reduced signal strength when it is drawn at the transmitter locations. Also,
industrial electrical activity can be a source of noise on the data.

Raw Data
Most VLF instruments record basic electric and magnetic parameters that may be difficult to interpret
directly in terms of subsurface properties. If the goal is to map the locations of buried conductors, some
minor processing is recommended to emphasize conductivity structure. If the goal is to estimate depth
to a target, or depth of overburden, then it is more common to plot raw data as line profiles. Both
approaches are illustrated below.
1. Raw VLF data

Searching for buried objects


with the VLF and Fraser
filtered spatial maps

The most diagnostic parameter for


locating buried conductors, especially
elongated ones, is the vertical in-phase
component of the secondary magnetic
field. As the VLF instrument passes
over the axis of a long buried
conductor, this parameter's value
changes sign (illustrated in Figure 1 by
clicking the buttons). These cross-over
positions directly identify anomaly
locations on profile graphs, but maps
are easier to interpret visually if
cross-overs are converted into peaks
using a simple filtering process described
by Fraser (Figure 2 to the right).
Since this is a spatial filtering technique,
some smoothing will occur, and the peak's
width will depend upon filter parameters,
not the target's depth. Cross-overs become
positive or negative peaks depending on
which direction the filter is applied. Finally,
cross-overs (and hence the peaks on
Fraser filtered maps) will be most
prominent when survey lines are
perpendicular to the buried anomaly's
orientation.

2.
3.

1.
2.
3.

Fraser filtering (1,1,-1,-1)


Both raw and filtered

Raw VLF data


Fraser filtering (1,1,-1,-1)
Both raw and filtered

Once data gathered along survey lines have been


Fraser filtered, results for the entire grid are contoured
to identify anomaly locations. The figures below
show results of Fraser filtering data sets from two
different transmitters, gathered simultaneously at
one site. The dependence of response on conductor
orientation is immediately evident. The response is
strongest if magnetic source fields are oriented
perpendicular to the buried conductor because
this orientation will result in the strongest possible
induced currents within the buried conductor. For
this reason, most modern VLF instruments record
data simultaneous from two or three different
transmitters (assuming, of course, that signal
strength is adequate at a given site).

1.
2.
3.

Raw VLF data


Fraser filtering (1,1,-1,-1)
Both raw and filtered

Figures 1-3: The buried conductive object is under location


0.0, and the transmitter is oriented off to the left side so that the
source magnetic field is perpendicular to the survey line; ie in
to & out of the screen. Click buttons for alternate figures.

Estimating depth to buried targets


For quantitative interpretation, it is more useful to
plot line profiles of raw data. The figure to the
right illustrates a method of estimating depth to a
linear conductor based on peak to peak width of
raw VLF vertical in-phase data. The depth is half
the peak-to-peak width, less the instrument's
elevation above ground. This procedure was
developed by Wright (Wright, 1988).

Apparent resistivity
One unique aspect of VLF surveying is that horizontal electric fields in the ground can be measured
using capacitively coupled electrodes. This means that the apparent resistivity can be estimated using
Hx, the horizontal magnetic field measured in one direction and Ey, the electric field in the ground
measured in the perpendicular direction. The relation for resistivity, , is described in the following
equation, where, is angular frequency and is magnetic permeability (usually 0):

Making E-field measurements can be a bit laborious in the field, but it may be worth the effort if
apparent resistivities will contribute to the geologic question. Results are sometimes rather noisy, but
depth of investigation is determined by the skin depth of the signals (around 24 kHz) rather than the
geometry of transmitter/receiver systems of small apparent conductivity instruments. It is also worth
noting that the presence of the buried metal affects large scale galvanic currents driven by VLF signals
less than induction currents; so the apparent resistivity measured using VLF in areas where small metal
features dominate induction system responses might be more reliable than apparent resistivity
measured with systems that depend on induction currents.

UBC Earth and Ocean Sciences, F. Jones.